To gauge the daily progress of Tulane’s touted freshman men’s basketball class, you won’t need anything other than a normal cable TV contract or a satellite dish.
After suffering through years and years of Conference USA’s nearly nonexistent television package, the Green Wave left the dark ages and entered the spotlight when it joined the American Athletic Conference in 2014-15.
Coming off Wednesday’s loss at No. 11 North Carolina on ESPN2, Tulane (6-5) plays at Mississippi State (4-5) at 3 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network. It is the third TV game in the last four the Green Wave has played, starting a stretch when 18 of the last 24 will be televised nationally on an ESPN network or CBS Sports Network.
As recently as 2013-14, Tulane went the entire year without a game on national television.
“It’s a great factor as we try to build our fan base across the country,” coach Ed Conroy said. “It’s also a recruiting piece. People get to see us and they know the product, and as we continue to improve, and the recruiting will continue (its uptick) as well. It’s already paid off. I love the guys we signed for next year, and I love this freshman class.
“I think it will continue to pay those kind of dividends, and if we play really well, everybody sees it.”
Beating Mississippi State would be a positive step after a rough start to the season as Conroy mixed in five freshmen and two transfers to the rotation. With fourth-year junior guard Kajon Mack returning from a knee injury to play for the first time in Wednesday’s 96-72 loss to North Carolina, all 12 scholarship players will be available against the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State, which lost 59-54 at Devlin Fieldhouse last season, has struggled under first-year coach Ben Howland, who finished below .500 in his first season at previous stops Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and UCLA. The Bulldogs matched the Wave’s loss to Southern and also fell at home to Missouri-Kansas City.
Mississippi State likely will be without leading scorer Gavin Ware, who was diagnosed with a lateral bone bruise Thursday after a 90-66 loss to Florida State and is listed as doubtful. Ware, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward, averages 18.3 points and 7.8 rebounds.
If Ware cannot play, the Bulldogs will rely heavily on a backcourt of Craig Sword, Malik Newman and I.J. Ready, who all average in double figures but combine to shoot 27.8 percent from 3-point range.
Tulane’s freshmen still are trying to find their way even though they combined to shoot 8 for 12 against North Carolina.
Small forward Melvin Frazier went scoreless in eight minutes, dropping his average to 5.4 points. He is shooting 29.4 percent from the floor and 40.0 percent from the foul line.
Guard Kain Harris, the most consistently productive freshman, had five points in 13 minutes. He averages 7.6 points and is Tulane’s most accurate 3-point shooter (37.1 percent).
Backup point guard Von Julien also scored five points in 17 minutes. After missing three games with the effects of a concussion, he averages 4.1 points and has by far the best assist to turnover ratio on the team (26-to-12).
Post player Blake Paul (2.7 average) hit both of his shots in 14 minutes and also blocked a shot, while 310-pound Taron Oliver entered late and went 2 for 2, showing nice touch for the second time in limited action this year.
“The freshmen are really coming along,” Conroy said. “They are probably going to see more action in the next couple of weeks because they are progressing well.”
Despite the growing pains, it’s a class Conroy believes still can be a big foundation for future success. Without all the guaranteed TV appearances as a member of the AAC, Tulane would not even have those building blocks.
“The two really big things for these guys is TV exposure, and then the other factor is the NCAA tournament in a league that gets more than one bid,” Conroy said. “Every kid wants to be on TV and every kid wants to be in the Big Dance.”